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Rustin star Colman Domingo: ‘I think Bayard would like to be remembered as a Black, sexy leader’

Exclusive: Domingo and director George C. Wolfe have shared their experiences of the new queer biopic

By Dale Fox

Promo poster for Rustin featuring Colman Domingo
Colman Domingo stars in Rustin, available now on Netflix (Image: Netflix)

Actor Colman Domingo has shared his experience of the new biopic Rustin, speaking to Attitude alongside the movie’s director George C. Wolfe.

Rustin tells the story of the late gay African-American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who was instrumental in organising the landmark March on Washington in 1963 in which Martin Luther King delivered his historic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.

As the movie shows, Rustin was open and unapologetic about being gay. However, though a crucial figure in the civil rights movement, he was often maligned and his contributions downplayed because of his sexuality.

“Rachelle Horowitz, who is a dear friend and comrade of Bayard Rustin, sent me a text. She’s a character in the film too. I was on The Tonight Show and I happened to be wearing a very low-cut shirt. She said, ‘I think Bayard would like to be remembered as a Black, sexy leader’,” Domingo told Attitude.

“It was a very conscious thing wearing that on The Tonight Show because I want people to see him as sexual as well.”

Director George C. Wolfe added: “I don’t believe he apologised for the space that he occupied, and, in fact, he occupied as much space as he possibly could. People frequently use anger to assert their identity, but he used joy to assert his identity. I think that makes him a role model.”

The movie was produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground, with the screenplay co-written by Dustin Lance Black. Asked about the Obamas’ involvement in the project, Wolfe said the pair were very hands-on.

“That sense of detail and organisation was very important to President Obama, and to Mrs Obama” – George C. Wolfe

“They read drafts of the script. If they had notes or comments, they would offer those. There were things that were very important to President Obama, like that Bayard was the king of details. That sense of detail and organisation was very important to President Obama, and to Mrs Obama as well. Their intelligence and their taste and their perceptions became valuable.”

Domingo added that he met Black’s husband Tom Daley during the process, describing him as “delightful”.

“He’s gorgeous and sweet and kind and funny. And a really good dad,” he said.

Asked about why now seemed like such a great time for Black cinema, Domingo, who also stars in the upcoming The Color Purple remake said movies “belong to all of us.”

“With Rustin, you don’t have to be a queer person from Westchester, Pennsylvania to understand this story. It’s a human story.”

Rustin is available to stream now on Netflix.